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County rethinks tree regulations

Staffers are setting out to tighten standards and eliminate problems in the rules for cutting trees.


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 6, 2001

LECANTO -- Before a new wave of construction cuts through the area, county officials say they want to make sure developers work existing trees into their plans instead of plowing down entire woodlands for new homes and stores.

While the county already has laws on tree preservation, staffers this month plan to draft a proposed tree ordinance that would beef up the standards and eliminate the loopholes, Community Development Director Chuck Dixon said.

"Maybe (the county's existing tree regulations) are not enforced," Community Development Manager Larry Frey said Thursday. "Maybe they're so confusing it makes it difficult for (developers) to do tree preservation."

The county's Land Development Code has an 11-page section on landscaping and tree preservation based on a system of tree credits. A tree that is 2 inches in diameter counts as one credit, an 8-inch diameter tree is worth three credits, and so on.

The code requires builders to get a $35 permit before clearing a non-residential lot, and the builder must keep or replant at least 15 tree credits per acre.

And the penalty for clearing a lot without the county's blessing? Just the $70 fee for an after-the-fact permit.

"You have to have some kind of hammer," said Ray Hughes, chairman of the county's Planning and Development Review Board. "Just to have some junk written on a piece of paper doesn't mean beans unless you have a hammer."

In other counties, the penalty for chopping down a "specimen" tree can be as large as a $10,000 fine, Frey said. Planning board members said Thursday that Citrus County should move toward heavier fines and require violators to plant even more trees than would normally be required.

Other ideas included allowing developers to plant only indigenous trees and requiring them to show cause for removing any tree over a certain size.

Board member Marion Knudsen said there should also be tree preservation standards for residential properties, which are exempt from the current code.

To make her point, she described how she once watched developers plow down 5 acres of woodlands for a Pine Ridge home.

"By the time they finished (clearing) it, there wasn't even a blade of grass," Knudsen said. "Why call it Pine Ridge? It ought to be called the Mojave Desert."

Board member James Kellner, a builder, said smart developers should embrace efforts to keep old trees in their subdivisions.

"You end up having a much nicer development and you sell faster," Kellner said.

Dixon said he and several staffers will take the planning board's comments into consideration as they draft a proposed tree ordinance over the next month.

The draft would go through two rounds of review: two hearings before the planning board and two more before the County Commission, which would then take a vote.

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